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Schools add snow days next year

As the largest Spokane-area school districts wrap up the year, the summer ahead may seem short for some families.

The school year was extended to make up for snow closures in January, and in some districts school will start earlier than normal because of new, built-in snow days during the coming school year.

Before the last two record-breaking snow seasons, Inland Northwest districts had not cancelled classes since the 1996 ice storm.

“After the first bad snow, we said this is a fluke,” said Nancy Stowell, Spokane Public Schools’ superintendent. “Then it snowed just as bad the very next year.”

Schools were closed for five days each time.

But after this last season, Spokane-area school officials said they wanted to avoid the headache and paperwork of petitioning the state Board of Education for students to attend fewer than 180 school days – a state requirement.

Spokane and Mead school districts built in five make-up days. Central Valley built in two days.

“If we don’t have snow days, they will have non-school days,” Stowell said.

Most of the snow make-up days will be clustered around holidays, such as President’s Day and Memorial Day. If those reserved days aren’t needed to make up for days when snow closes schools, students will get those days off, in some cases giving them four-day weekends.

But that might be little consolation to the Spokane Public Schools students who will return to the classroom Aug. 27. That’s the earliest start of the region’s districts, and 13 days before the traditional post-Labor Day start — although Labor Day falls later this year than it did last year. East Valley and West Valley school districts will also start before the holiday. Central Valley, Mead and Idaho’s Post Falls, Lakeland and Coeur d’Alene school districts will return to school the day after Labor Day.

Idaho schools must fulfill a required number of hours of instruction per year, rather than days, as is the case in Washington. Officials said they have extra hours built into their schedules, in case of emergency closures.

“So far, we haven’t had to extend the year like some districts,” said Tom Taggart, Lakeland Joint School District’s business manager. “Our school calendar normally has more time built in than is required, so we have some leeway.”

This last season, school was cancelled for four days, Taggart said of the Rathdrum-based district. “At the high school, we had to extend the school days by a few minutes.”

Of the three larger North Idaho school districts, only Coeur d’Alene built snow days into next year’s calendar.

“It came from having to make up days in the previous two years. Adding on a day is hard on everyone, so this is just a better method,” said Kelly Ostrom, the district’s human resources director. “Prior to that it had been probably 18 years since Coeur d’Alene had had to make up any time,” she added.